SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– South Dakota farmers and ranchers continue to be impacted by drought conditions.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions for South Dakota, as of last Thursday, reported 89.1% of the state is under moderate drought (D1) and 49.9% is affected by severe drought (D2). 1.5% is under extreme drought conditions (D3), in the southeast corner of the state, including Lincoln County and parts of Minnehaha County, Turner County, Union County and Clay County. All of the state is abnormally dry (D0), this year and none of the state is experiencing exceptional drought (D4).
This is the most area of drought across South Dakota since April 23, 2013, when were coming out of the drought in 2012, Laura Edwards, Extension State Climatologist for SDSU Extension said. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their winter summary, which covers December through February. Over those months, South Dakota had a state average of one inch of precipitation, Edwards said. This was the driest winter since 2005 and 21st driest since 1895.
In the D0 category, grain and pasture growth is stunned, according to the drought impacts by state.
D1 means that the topsoil is dry; grain crop yields decline and pasture and water supplies decline; cattle industry under stress.
Under D2 conditions, planting begins early; irrigation use increases, hay is short; cattle sales are early, fire season is extended; fire season is early; grass fires are common and water quality for agriculture operations is low; stock ponds are low.
D3 means that row crop loss is significant, producers haul water for cattle and provide supplemental feeding; cattle sale increase, burn bans begin, deer and pheasant populations are low and river flow in major rivers is low; small surface water bodies are dry.
“It’s been a long time since we had this kind of severity, at least at this time of the year,” Edwards said. “We are starting to think about how this is going to impact us in the spring season.”
Edwards said these conditions are certainly drier than normal. She said this winter has seen extremely dry conditions. Since early November, especially in the northern and northwestern parts of the state, they have seen less than 25% of average precipitation.
Over next couple weeks, we are going to see a system come across the state, mostly hitting the southwest and some parts of the east central, but in general the next couple of weeks look pretty dry and maybe a little cooler than average, Edwards said.
“So, pretty limited chances for getting any more moisture,” Edwards said. “As we look ahead in the spring season, it looks like some part of South Dakota, maybe the south first, but then moving toward the western part of the state, are continued favored to be drier than average.”
Not only that, but the outlook for the next few months shows warmer than average temperatures. Putting all these factors together is kind of a “recipe for drought”, Edwards said.
What will this look like for area producers?
Looking at farming and ranching for this season, producers are carrying over pretty dry soils from last year, Edwards said. Producers typically rely on the fall precipitation to get the soils wet, winter freezes and locks it in and then they can use that moisture in the spring season. However, last fall was very dry and this winter was very dry and warm, so the soil is starting off dry. She said they are going to rely on the spring rainfall much more than they have in recent years.
Edwards says the upside is that spring planting will go well, compared to the flooding we have experienced in recent years. She said she has already heard of some producers talking about planting small grain crops.
April, May and June comprise about 40% of the annual total precipitation, Edwards said. Missing out on spring rainfall would be tough on producers to get a high yield. This could also lead to poor emergence and germination, smaller plant size and not as many seeds may come up.
The last time we saw conditions like this, at this time of year, was in 2012, which was a really tough year, Edwards said.
Small grain crops and grasses require less moisture than crops such as corn and soybeans, Edwards said.
“I know a lot of folks are looking at the market right now and there’s a really good price on corn and soybeans so it’s kind of a trade off there on what you can handle and what risk you are willing to take out on the farm,” Edwards said.
Something that farmers will want to look at heading into this planting season, is there tillage methods, Laura Broyles, NRCS Acting State Conservationist said.
“If we continue with the drought how we are right now, and there’s not additional snowfall and there’s not additional and rain and moisture, one of the things they will need to look at is there tillage methods,” Broyles said. “Whether they’re a no-till or they’re a reduced till, you know if you have someone that’s still conventional tillage and they are continuously tilling, they are losing some of that soil moisture. That’s definitely one of those things they will need to look at and maybe that reduced tillage in those areas so you can hold more of that moisture in the areas that they are cropping.”
Broyles said one of the things they may want to look at if they are using cover crops, maybe use additional cover crops in their mixes.
One effect of the drought and colder weather that producers are already starting to see is possible damage to the wheat crop, Broyles said.
Edwards also said that these conditions increase fire hazard, which is also a problem on operations.
How to prepare your operation for drought:
NRCS provides farmers and ranchers with resources to prepare their operations before a drought strikes. Their strategies are organized in categories of water management, land management and crop management.
When it comes to water management, they recommend evaluating all types of irrigation systems appropriate for you operation and choose the one that will help you lose less water to evaporation, percolation and runoff. They also suggestion looking for ways to make your existing irrigation system more efficient, build a water storage system that holds water for use during irrigation season, store water in ditches along fields, install water measurement devices that track water use and use water from deep aquifers instead of surface water.
NRCS’s land management ideas include use conservation tillage, implement conservation practices that reduce runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the soil, monitor soil moisture, maintain and establish riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways and other types of conservation buffers near water sources, know your livestock’s forage needs, raise animals that do not consume large quantities of water and cull herds according to a schedule to maximize your profits.
Their crop management tips to incorporate are planting crops that withstand dryness, hold water and reduce the need for irrigation, practice crop rotation that increases the amount of water that enters the soil and shift to cropping systems that are less water-dependent.